India-Japan ties grow with defense sector collaboration, maritime talks

India-Japan ties grow with defense sector collaboration, maritime talks

Mandeep Singh

Bilateral defense collaboration and the security of regional waters are key pillars of recent and planned defense talks between India and Japan.

Defense ties between India and Japan — strategic partners since 2006 — have grown stronger during the administrations of India Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, Dr. Rupakjyoti Borah, senior research fellow with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo, wrote recently in India’s Hindu Business Line newspaper.

“The regional environment in the Indo-Pacific has contributed to the growing ties between the two countries,” Borah observed. “The rise of China has been an important factor, while India’s growing closeness with the U.S. has also played a role, as the U.S. and Japan already have a close alliance.” (Pictured: Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, right, welcomes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, in June 2019.)

Abe and Modi made clear at their meeting on the sidelines of the India-Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and East Asia Summit 2019 in Bangkok in November 2019 that defense sector collaboration and the security of regional waters would headline the inaugural 2+2 Foreign and Defence Ministerial Dialogue slated for the end of November 2019 and the agenda of the annual summit between the countries to be held in New Delhi in December 2019. This affirmed the telephone conversation between Japanese Defence Minister Taro Kono and his Indian counterpart, Rajnath Singh, held on October 29, 2019.

At a September 2019 dialogue, the ministers emphasized the importance of furthering bilateral cooperation between their militaries to bolster maritime domain awareness, the practice of keeping watch on the world’s waterways to maintain security, commerce and ecology. “Peace and stability of the Indian and Pacific oceans are crucial for ensuring prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and the entire world,” their joint statement declared.

They highlighted bilateral military exercises as a key element of defense cooperation.

Dharma Guardian, a bilateral counterterrorism ground exercise, was held for the first time in 2018 and will continue annually, the ministers agreed. They likewise agreed that the Japan-India Maritime Exercise (JIMEX) held in 2018 should be conducted regularly, and they touted the success of Shinyuu Maitri 18, their first bilateral air exercise. These exercises, the ministers said, complement both countries’ participation in the ongoing Malabar trilateral maritime exercise, which also involves the United States, and the India-U.S. bilateral exercise, Cope India, which Japan’s Air Self-Defense Force attended for the first time as an observer in December 2018.

Defense education and research exchanges and cooperation in the defense technology sector are points of emphasis. Both countries want their defense research institutions to collaborate, and they made commitments to hold the fifth iteration of their Joint Working Group on Defence Equipment and Technology Cooperation before the end of the year and to promote the entry of Japanese defense firms into the Indian defense market.

“In an era that has seen an increasingly assertive China,” wrote Dr. Borah, “India and Japan both increase their options by collaborating with each other.”

Mandeep Singh is a FORUM contributor reporting from New Delhi, India.